"Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist" shows Eugene Deb's impact on American labor unions and the Socialist movement in America from the 1880s until his death in 1926, tracing his rise from a lowly locomotive paint-scraper to the five-time Socialist Party's presidential candidate. This "native son" combined his American values with socialism to battle against large corporations for "the working man." The author highlights the importance of Debs in American labor history, the complex life that Debs lived, and the journey that took him from democrat and trade unionist to socialist and industrial unionist.
The book is divided into four main sections. The first discusses early life in his home town of Terre Haute, a microcosm of working class towns throughout America. Here he became involved with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, and grew critical of industrial capitalism.
In the second section Debs took part in the Pullman strike and was sentenced to federal prison, where he spent much of his time reading, discussing, and learning about socialism. Upon his release from jail he helped found the forerunner to the Socialist Party of America.
In the third section Debs ran for president five times, the number of votes increasing with each campaign. The section also discusses Debs' greater acceptance of African Americans and women in his ideas for a socialist economy.
The final section sums up Debs' life. Sent to prison again, he ran for president for a fifth time from jail, winning 913,693 votes, the most ever for a Socialist Party candidate and the most votes of his career.
Debs was an impassioned human who fought for what he truly believed in. One issue was the book left me with some questions. What was the American consensus on Debs at this time? Was he seen as a radical trouble maker by the public? Did people sympathize with his ideas but not vote for him in the elections? The author did a fantastic job of painting the support Debs received from the socialist party, but I would have liked a broader view of American sentiment towards him.
This is only a minor complaint in an otherwise very solid read. These issues do not correspond with the main point the author is trying to make, so it makes sense that they were not given much attention. I would recommend this book to someone who wants to learn about Eugene Debs, especially if they are interested in the detailed role he played in the organization of labor unions and the development of the socialist party in America. If someone is looking for a broader view of Debs and the context and role he played in American history, I would say that a different book is a better choice.